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21 August 2019
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Our Lab blog - scripts, shoots and a little bit of ping pong

Trent O'Donnell & Craig Anderson are the writers of Marcus + Love, one of the projects workshopped at this year's IndiVision Project Lab. Their script, about an obsessive young man who creates a complex mathematical formula to locate the girl of his dreams, got a good workout at the Lab.

We come to the IndiVision Lab excited to be working on our project but unsure what to expect. The first day eases us in. The meet and greet is followed by group sessions with the advisors. During these opening addresses it becomes clear each advisor will be bringing their own experience and methods to the Lab. Danish writer Mogens Rukov has a vastly different approach to the Australian writers, Andrew Bovell and Michael Petroni. While Mogens has a treatment-free, fast-paced approach (which is often articulated with metaphors that involve smoking), Michael and Andrew have a more measured, prepared approach. These sessions are great to hear the rules and methods that people apply to their scripts.

At the end of day one we are about to head over to the Chauvel cinema for the opening night film and party when we meet David Field. David will be the performance advisor on our project in a few days time. We chat for 15 minutes or so in the car park. It was a great moment for us to hear David speak with such conviction about our script. It was exciting that he knew the script so well and was willing to hang around in the car park and gives us his thoughts.

Day two and the work begins, as each group meets with individual advisors. We begin with Andrew Bovell. It becomes a pattern for us that a lot of the feedback on our script is similar. We later joke that it's a credit to the writing for leaving such obvious shortcomings. We never really get down to the dialogue or small details but rather focus on the overall structure and character. We pick up lots of methods from the advisors that give us a fresh approach to a script we've worked on for 18 months. Things like Andrew's approach of looking at the first and last things said by the main character, and identifying the single kernel at the heart of your script, were really resonant for our project.

As well as the focused script sessions there are various specialised sessions for our producer, designed to hone his skills and to help find the best ways to get our project to the screen. These include New York-based indie producer Paul Mezey sharing his philosophies and tricks of the trade, the refreshingly frank Julie Ryan offering up a swag of info about her many projects with director Rolf de Heer, and an incredibly valuable one-on-one with producer Lynda House, which provides a strategic springboard for financing, production and distribution.

There's a constant flow of food and beverages at the Lab. Each day we dine on the terrace. One of the hardest things about leaving is having to readjust to feeding yourself. During the breaks (when not eating) we start playing table tennis. Soon a few of the advisors join in, which seems to give the ping pong arena a certain validity. David Field has a powerful forehand and vicious spinning serve. In the end ping pong is the winner as reputations are made and squandered.

After the first few days of focusing on script, the fourth day looks at visual language. We look at examples of good visual language and the foundations of visual meaning in film, which can be applied to a film of any budget.

On the fourth and fifth day each group shoots a scene from their script and cuts it together for a screening. During the shoots the performance advisors wander between groups giving input and performance direction. We choose a scene that we consider one of the more difficult to pull off. It's a good opportunity to have a go at something and see if it works without too much worry if it does stuff up. After chatting all week about the eight projects it's really interesting to see the test scenes at the screening.

A photographer is there throughout our shoot. We try to look deep in thought when being photographed. We recommend trying to recall a distant memory and gesturing with a pen or pencil. Developing a relationship with the photographer allows you to edit the photos before they are handed in.

The final day sees us revisit the script sessions. By this stage we have clear ideas of where our script is headed and we started to make a graph plotting the acts and sub-plots. By the end of the Lab it is tempting to go out and start writing straight away rather then working out the new scene breakdowns. It's something our script editor warned us about.

The final night dinner feels like a mini graduation as everyone gets set to take their projects back to the real world. If there was a best-dressed group award at the wrap dinner we were it - suits and ties across the board.

The days at the Lab are long, mostly starting at 8am and ending with a screening around 9 or 10pm. While it's draining at times, it's an environment that lends itself to focusing totally on the project. For our group it's often hard to get everyone in the same room, so having a solid week to devote to a project we all care about was great.

We couldn't recommend the Lab enough. For anyone with a low-budget feature project it is a fantastic opportunity to develop your project and get the momentum to take it to the next stage.

Bloggers Craig Anderson and Trent O'Donnell (centre) with team-mates producer Jason Harty (far left) and director Bryan Moses (far right) at the 07 Lab. Photo: Simon Cardwell.